BY ALLAN WALTERS — A crowd of over 200 Hyattsville residents descended upon Vigilante Coffee Company on Nov. 8 to view and provide comments on a presentation by local developer, Werrlein Properties.
The pitch? A proposal to develop the former Washington Suburban Sanitary Corporation (WSSC) site located at the corner of Hamilton and Gallatin Streets near Magruder Park by replacing the vacant office building and empty asphalt parking area with 71 townhouses and 14 single-family homes.
The packed house of local residents – some standing on chairs in the back in order to see over the crowd – included strong advocates of the proposed development and the benefits it would bring the community, others who voiced concerns regarding traffic and the loss of the empty parking lot currently used for event parking, and those who would like to see a repurpose of the former WSSC building rather than a teardown and replacement.
Beth Kantrowitz, a 20-year resident of the Top of the Park apartment complex located adjacent to the proposed development site at 4009 Gallatin Street, summed up the mood of many in the audience when asked her thoughts on the project, saying, “It has been 20 years, so I will believe it when I see it. I want to see the site put to use, but it is a question of how disruptive it all will be.”
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Jonathan Werrlein, managing partner of Werrlein Properties, kicked off the approximately 45-minute presentation, saying he and the development team were there to “get a sense for how the community feels about the plan.” Werrlein added, “We do care about what you think.”
According to Norma Rivera, whose law office is representing Werrlein Properties, the plan to redevelop the site as a mix of residential housing was created as a way to “fit in with what was already present in the community.” When asked about rehabbing the current building, Rivera remarked that the projected cost would be between $14 million and $28 million – a cost that would make a renovation too expensive. Project architect David Robbins said that the proposed design will seamlessly blend into the community, stating, “Each single family home will have a different façade and pick up themes that currently exist in Magruder Park.”
When presented with concerns about loss of green space, Rivera responded, “Currently, the upper parcel is more than 75 percent covered by the building and parking spaces, and the lower parcel is almost 100 percent covered by asphalt. Each residential home will have a yard as well as new trees. There will also be green spaces interspersed throughout the project. Overall, this proposal will greatly enhance the green-space footprint, add hundreds of trees and reduce impervious surface area to improve stormwater management.”
Another concern voiced in the meeting was the impact on parking. Werrlein Properties will seek to limit that impact by building an estimated 4.65 spaces per unit.
The current owner of the property is Douglas Development Corporation, a D.C.-based company with more than 5 million square feet of developable real estate in the pipeline. Werrlein Properties is currently negotiating contract terms pending the outcome of the proposal-approval process. Werrlein Properties has completed several smaller local developments, but this would be their largest, according to Werrlein.
Werrlein estimates that navigation through the Prince George’s County planning-and-approval process will take approximately 9 to 12 months. Werrlein Properties hopes for an aggressive development timeline. “We would like to begin site construction in the latter part of 2018 and home construction in the early part of 2019,” said Werrlein.
Benefits to Hyattsville and Prince George’s County will include “a contribution of approximately $1 million to the public schools and public safety funds,” said Rivera. “In addition, both the county and city will annually benefit from the property tax once each home is delivered.” Rivera also noted that “Werrlein Properties intends to enter into discussions with the city on how to form a public-private partnership in order to improve the amenities of Magruder Park.”
Many local elected officials were in attendance, including Mayor Candace Hollingsworth, several city councilmembers and Prince George’s County Councilmember Deni Taveras, who told the crowd that she would like to see activity at the unoccupied location.
The reviewal of proposed development plans was the first step in a larger effort that Werrlein Properties has planned to gather community feedback. “We will be listening to the input from everyone in the community,” said Rivera. “The event revealed that there was a wide range of emotions related to this project. We will be sensitive to everyone’s point of view.”